african american activists

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The bourgeoisie is fearful of the militancy of the Negro woman, and for good reason. The capitalists know, far better than many progressives seem to know, that once Negro women begin to take action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition, is greatly enhanced.
(Claudia Jones. 1915-1965)


Claudia Jones, Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent, ed. Margaret Busby (Vintage edition, 199), 262.

Unita Blackwell (b. 1933) is the first African-American woman to be elected as mayor in the state of Mississippi. She is a civil rights activist who helped organize voters in the state.

She worked as a project director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, as well as a community development specialist with the National Council of Negro Women, working on projects for low-income housing. As mayor of Mayersville, she secured funds for infrastructure and accommodation across the city.

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Bayard Rustin - The Gay Civil Rights Leader

Bayard Rustin was the heart and soul of the black civil rights movement in the United States, He was Martin Luther King Jr.s chef organizer, the pioneer of nonviolent resistance, and the man behind the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr.King delivered his momentous and influential “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin’s open homosexuality was contentious, and to this day his impact on the American landscape is all too often overlooked.

Mary Ann Shadd (1823-1893) was the first black female publisher in the United States, and the first female publisher in Canada. She was a devoted abolitionist, and also a journalist, teacher, and lawyer.

Fleeing from the United States under the threat of recapture for former slaves, she settled in Ontario and founded a racially integrated school. She then travelled around Canada and USA promoting full racial integration and education. From 1853, she ran an anti-slavery newspaper called The Provincial Freeman, which made her the first female African-American newspaper editor in North America.

Read the full transcript of the remarks Jesse Williams delivered at the BET Awards here:

“Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, [and] that I make sure I learn what the schools were afraid to teach us, and also thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents and families and teachers and students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right?

It’s kind of basic mathematics that the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now this is also in particular for the black women who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day. So what is going to happen is we’re going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.

Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s fourteenth birthday. So I don’t want to hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a twelve-year old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Dorian Hunt.

Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Dedicating our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our bodies – when we’ve spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies – and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies??? There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them.

But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us…

But she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so…free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And let’s get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you’d better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down!

We’ve been floatin’ this country on credit for centuries yo! And we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our creations and stealing them, gentrifying our genius, and then trying us on like costumes, before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit.

The thing is though, the thing is: just because we’re magic don’t mean we’re not real.

Thank you.”

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Android Mermaid. Asé.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was one of the first African-American women to gain a higher education degree in the United States. She did so in 1884 from Oberlin College, in a class of mostly white male students. She was also a prominent activist and suffragist later in life.

In 1896 she became the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, who focused on aiding disadvantaged children. She founded the National Association of University Women the same year, and later was appointed on the Board of Education for the District of Columbia, the first woman of colour to hold such a role. She was instrumental in the desegregation of many institutions and public spaces in DC.

Born in 1945 in Brava, Somalia, Prof. Abdurahman Sharif Mahamud, known as the Somali African-American, was an activist and champion of the Black struggle and Pan-Africanism. When he came to the United States, not only did he become great friends with Black revolutionaries such as Stokely Carmichael (known also as Kwame Ture) and the great poet Amiri Baraka, he also networked with the Black Panthers and other Black movements. He would later call Amiri Baraka his best friend. Professor Mahamud’s understanding of Blackness in the United States was reaffirmed (or challenged) in the 1980’s when he was violently attacked by Ku Klux Klan members, having his nose broken, teeth knocked out and left for dead. He would years before encounter the Nation Of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad, this encounter of professor Mahamud’s would affect him deeply  as he recalls in his biography:

“While attending a Muslim conference in Chicago, he [a brother named Karim] introduced me to the great leader Elijah Muhammad. In him, I saw a charismatic leader who was an honest and good man of God (Allah). I cannot describe how genius he was; I can only say that God (Allah) gave him this power and many scholars, lawyers, doctors, wealthier black people, and masses of people followed him. He welcomed me with a handshake, saying, ‘Salam Alaiykum’ (which is an Arabic greeting). He held my hand and asked me if I was from Somalia. I said yes, he said Somalia is a great country. He was holding the holy Book of Allah in his hand, and I could tell how great he was despite the criticism of Arabs and other Muslims. His temple was much like a Christian church; there was no prayer, but rather you listened to the lecture while seated in chairs. Nonetheless, he was working for Allah, who will forgive him.“

“The Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the white citizen’s counselor or the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to positive peace which is the presence of justice.” - MLK Jr.

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Day everybody!

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Nina Simone: That Blackness
Yes Mother Speak Speak –

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The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Mel Boozer at the New York City Gay Pride Rally, 1982.
Photo: Jeff Sanyour

Mel Boozer worked to raise LGBT and racism issues within the Democratic Party, working on Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign and helping found the mostly black and LGBT Langston Hughes-Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club in Washington, DC.

Daisy Bates (1944-1999)

Daisy Bates was an African American civil rights activist, journalist and publisher. Born in Huttig, Arkansas, Bates’s childhood was not easy. Her mother was sexually assaulted and murdered by three white men and Bates was raised by family friends. In her late teen bates met her future husband, Christopher Bates. The two soon married and operated an African American Newspaper, The Arkansas State which championed equal rights for African Americans. Bates soon furthered her involvement in the civil rights movement and became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP in 1952. She is best known for her involvement with the Little Rock Nine. Bates’s house was used as headquarters for the operation and she consulted the students and supported them as they faced harassment from whites at their school. She later reflected on her experience in her Memoir: The Long Shadow of Little Rock. She died in 1999.